Some of you know that I am currently pursuing a Doctorate of Ministry through Rockbridge Seminary in Springfield, Missouri. Here's an honest disclaimer: if you're not an education nerd like me, these posts in the Rockbridge Series are probably not going to interest you. However, if you're are an education nerd like myself, you'll probably want to check back each Monday during this series.
Here's what's happening: in my final seminar of doctoral work, four fellow cohort members and myself have been tasked with providing a resource for churches and ministry organizations to understanding how to more effectively teach in an increasingly digital generation. While this was approached from a theological standpoint as a project, it has proven to be highly informative for secular educators and leaders as well. So for the next five weeks fellow cohort members will be guest writers here on my site to share what we're learning.
The principles share in this series are based on assertions made by authors Ian Jukes, Ted McCain, and Lee Crockett in their book Understanding the Digital Generation: Teaching and Learning in the New Digital Landscape. They suggest that while educators will continue to teach traditional skills, there will be a shift in emphasis of importance for those skills (loc 1652). For instance, they write the following:
Good handwriting has long been valued by teachers as an important skill for student to acquire because that skill was critical for a paper-based note taking, letter writing, form completion, and report writing that was done in the 20th-centure industrial life. And while there are still cognitive benefits to learning to write by hand and good reasons to teach this skill to students as they go through school, we must face the fact that the emphasis on handwriting as a critical skill for the world at large has changed significantly over the last 20 years.
The world has shifted to a digital realm where writing is done almost exclusively using digital software tools. This means that handwriting is not nearly as important as a job skill today as it was in the past. It is important that teachers re-evaluate the importance of all the skill they have taught traditionally in light of the realities of the new digital world (Kindle loc. 1578).
With this considerable shift in mind, these posts in the Rockbridge Series will explore a essential skills in which people need to be fluent in order to function a world full of technology today. These are the skills that leaders and educators in both Christian and secular realms need to consider when engaging with their students or followers.
THIS WEEK'S SKILL: MEDIA FLUENCY
My siblings and I used to make so much fun of my parents – and sometimes we still do – as we watched them try to catch up with the latest technology and inevitably fall into the trap of trying to sound more versed in it than they actually were. I remember one Thanksgiving when, after the meal was over and everyone was just sitting around relaxing, my younger sister was debating with herself about the best way to send to us the many pictures she had taken that day, and my dad, probably wanting to be helpful but probably more so wanting to show off his own perceived tech savvy, blurted out, “well, why don’t you just download them to the internet!” All five of us kids simultaneously bursted into laughter. I’m laughing now even just remembering the story. We have never let him live that down. His lack of understanding between downloading and uploading, coupled with his nebulous idea of ‘The Internet,’ and not any particular file sharing site or social media, betrays his lack of media fluency. But it’s not just my dad. Many people nowadays – and especially many Christians and many pastors – lack this necessary fluency, and it’s hurting the advancement of the Gospel.
Since this current series of blog articles includes a separate post on information fluency, I’m going to try to stay away from that as much as possible, though there is some overlap between these two fluencies. Suffice it to say that media fluency is the ability use the various types of media out there and, more importantly, the ability to discern which one is the best way to spread a message.
Social media is truly its own language, and with any language, fluency is measured both in terms of how one is able to listen and how one is able to speak. Simply having accounts with Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, etc., doesn’t make one completely fluent in social media. It means that such persons are probably good at “listening” since they might regularly check each of these accounts for updates, but unless these same persons understand the different ways in which these media are supposed to be used for “speaking” (which is a skill that should come from “listening”), they are not truly fluent in the language that is social media. Nothing prevents people from posting their resume on Facebook, or from posting a status update on LinkedIn, but such people obviously lack social media fluency, despite the fact that they have accounts with both. The same could be said about people who use their blog to post pictures, and who use their Instagram account to post screen shots of paragraphs of text.
To be fair, there is something to be said about the potential value of intentionally using a certain type of social media contrary to the way it was intended. I remember distinctly when Facebook users starting using hashtags in their posts. Many people commented how stupid it was since that was a Twitter thing and since Facebook’s software didn’t even support the interlinking of hashtags. After enough people starting doing it though, Facebook changed and now hashtags work on Facebook. As another example, an argument could be made that since users of Tumblr and Instagram are used to seeing picture after picture, posting pictures of text (not even actual memes) could be a welcome interruption, and potentially evangelistic. Is there value in posting a picture that is simply a plain background with the text “John 3:16” written on it? Such a Scripture verse could have simply been posted as regular text to a Facebook or Twitter account, but is there value in turning it into a picture so as to reach the Instagram and Tumblr crowds?
While the jury may still be out on the value of intentionally misusing social media, there is a clear verdict in favor of social media’s place in today’s society. As Christians, we must not just be willing to “meet people where they’re at,” as the famous, grammatically-incorrect saying goes, but we must be willing to learn their language, which, for our society, is increasingly the language of social media. We must learn to both listen and speak in this language if we are to be successful in the call to preach the Gospel to every creature.
THIS WEEK'S GUEST WRITER: JOHN REUTEMANN
John Reutemann is a Catholic priest serving as an active duty chaplain at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Great Falls, Montana. He was born and raised in the Washington, DC area, and was ordained for that Archdiocese in 2010. His doctoral project is aimed at exploring the role of the laity in Catholic ecclesiology and ministry. Check out John's website at www.reutepriest.com. You can email John at firstname.lastname@example.org.